A few years ago, Carré Kwong Callaway—aka Queen Kwong—was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis and told she may only have a decade left to live. As a result of the condition, she’s prone to episodes where her lungs fill up with blood and she’s literally drowning. If that wasn’t bad enough, two months after her diagnosis, her musician husband jumped ship—to put it nicely. Within the year, everything else—her security and stability, her home and home studio, her cats—had also gone. This gave Carré no option but to leave Detroit, where she and her ex-husband had bought a house, with nothing but one suitcase and two guitars. “I was homeless for nearly a year, just living on friends’ sofas, and I’m still in the process of rebuilding my life,” she says, “but it’s reassuring that we can survive things that feel unsurvivable.”
On the surface, then, Couples Only could be described as a divorce record, but, really, it’s much more than that. It’s an outpouring of pure feeling and visceral thought that captures every emotion that comes with both the grieving and recovery process. It’s a fearless account of facing the worst betrayals and accepting the deepest losses. It’s the realization of one’s mortality and the impermanence of everything we know and cherish. But, ultimately, it’s a testament to the endurance of the human spirit. Because while this record is unashamedly about the darkest period of Carré’s life, it doesn’t wallow. It can be accusatory and violent, but there’s no time wasted on self-pity. “It’s not a fun record,” Carré admits, “but, at times, it’s a funny one.”
Indeed, there’s levity here. Just ask her what song title EMDR ATM stands for. Even the album title itself is a tongue-in-cheek dig at herself. It seems as though losing everything ultimately liberated Carré—perhaps because, as she says, “it makes you realize what truly matters, and the things that don’t matter end up meaning even less. It frees you from a lot of bullshit.”
Needless to say, Couples Only is Carré setting the record straight, and across these 11 songs, she takes no prisoners.
As with every Queen Kwong album, Couples Only was entirely improvised and recorded on the spot—nothing was pre-written lyrically or musically. For three weeks, Carré and longtime producer Joe Cardamone (The Icarus Line/Skeleton Joe) crafted about one song a day, which would eventually be whittled down to the final 11 songs. The pair would usually begin with a drumbeat Joe programmed, followed by Carré tracking guitar and bass lines that she would then freestyle lyrics and vocals over. Interestingly, Carré hadn’t picked up an instrument for nearly a year before going into the studio. Instead, she was filling her time with other projects—after graduating from university with honors, she founded an all-natural skincare line, co-starred in American Primitive film series Quarentina, launched the immensely entertaining music podcast Never Meet Your Idols, and is nearly finished with her first collection of sculptural artwork scheduled to show next year. Despite being so preoccupied, however, Carré found herself needing the cathartic purging that only music has been able to offer her. As she explains: “I don’t play music because it’s fun. It’s a coping mechanism. It’s for survival. I have to keep playing music because it’s my way of allowing myself to feel.”